Africa Matters is a blog that follows the news and offers analysis of African affairs. Our aim is to delve deeper into the issues of African politics and development. We don’t presume to be experts, and we don’t presume to have all the answers—we are just trying to ask the right questions.

Sunday, October 5

New study: Rwandan Genocide toll nearly 2 million

The New Times in Kigali reports that a study just released by the Student Genocide Survivors Organization (Association Etudiants Réscapes du Génocide, or AERG) scoured the 390 memorial sites and other cemeteries across Rwanda, identifying 1,952,078 victims of the 1994 genocide.  This figure was broken down into 1,002,755 buried in official memorials, 851,756 in alternative places of burial, and 97,567 people whose remains have not been identified.

Straton Nsanzabaganwa, director of the Rwanda Academy of Language and Culture, in the Ministry of Sports and Culture, which sponsored the survey, adds that the actual figure is likely higher, as bodies that were disposed of in lakes or rivers, or bodies that were burnt, would not have been counted.  Sixty people in all 30 Rwandan districts worked on the project.

Traditionally, estimates of the number killed during the genocide have ranged from 500,000 to one million, with many analysts putting the figure around 800,000.  Human Rights Watch, for instance, calculated that at least 500,000 people were killed, numbers which seemed to agree with Gérard Prunier's, another expert on the crisis.  A U.N. researcher figured 800,000 had died, though this did not necessarily exclude those who died of indirect causes.

It's hard to tell how robust the methods used in this study were, and it will be interesting to see what, if anything, experts and analysts outside of Rwanda have to say about it.  But, needless to say, this finding represents a significant departure from past estimates—though, a 2004 census report had also come up with a higher number, closer to one million.